Rage Head to Birmingham
Orlando – (29 March 2001) — The Orlando Rage remain the only unbeaten home team in the XFL. This week though, they play on the road.
The Orlando Rage (7-1) are heading to Birmingham (2-6) to play the last place Bolts. The Rage have clinched a first-round home playoff game after capturing the Eastern Division title with a 17-12 win over the New York/New Jersey Hitmen on Sunday afternoon. Brian Kuklick passed for 202 yards and a touchdown, as the Orlando Rage now look to gain home field throughout the playoffs. Rage RB Brian Shay returned the opening kickoff 95 yards to the 1, and Derrick Clark rushed in for the touchdown on the first play from scrimmage.
The Rage finished the home portion of their schedule with a 5-0 record, the only XFL team to go undefeated at home. Kuklick, making his first start after Jeff Brohm was lost for the season with a separated right shoulder, capped a 77-yard, second quarter drive with a 20-yard TD pass to Dialleo Burks. To win this week against the Bolts, the Rage will have to address mistakes that have plagued the team for the last two weeks.
Heading into the game at Los Angeles, the Rage were ranked number one in the league in rushing, and was the least penalized team in the XFL. In the past 3 games they have been whistled for 17 penalties for 166 yards.
The Rage also have seven turnovers (6 interceptions and a fumble), gave up two huge punt returns, have had two kicks blocked, and the Rage running game has just 160 combined yards in the last three games, after rushing for 100 or more yards in each of the first five games.
“We need to eliminate those mistakes,” Head Coach Galen Hall says. “I told our guys going into the New York game that we had to cut down on penalties, avoid turnovers and win the kicking game. We failed on two of three, but our defense stepped up and pulled it out for us.”
“Right now, we got a lot of our confidence back. “LB James Burgess said. “But you can’t take any team lightly in the league because there just isn’t that big of a difference in talent from one team to another. It may sound like a cliché, but on any given weekend any team can win. Birmingham has a lot of guys who can make big plays. We need to keep our focus.”
Right now Birmingham has been hit hard by injuries at key positions. The Bolts are on their 3rd QB of the season. Graham Leigh will become Birmingham’s third starter, after he replaced Jay Barker (concussion) in Sunday’s loss to the Chicago Enforcers. Other Bolt injuries include Bolts safety David Knott and defensive tackle Johnny Mitchell have been lost for the season due to injuries sustained in last week’s game at Chicago. The Bolts are banged up and should be easy prey for the Rage who look to clinch homefield throughout the playoffs and remain the only team perfect in the east. If Birmingham loses they would be eliminated from playoff contention.
Orlando’s only key injury is to Jeff Brohm who had surgery on Monday for his shoulder. His status as of right now is unknown.
This week the Rage should get back on track with the running game. “Ideally, we would want to go in and average six yards a carry and score on an eight-minute drive every time we touch the ball.” Coach Hall said. “Realistically, that’s not going to happen. We have struggled with our running game but I still believe we need to get that going again in order to reach our ultimate goal. We’re not going to panic and do anything different, but we have to become more efficient on offense.” Brian kuklick should be a lot more at ease this week after his first professional start and win last week. . “Brian played about like we expected,” Head Coach Galen Hall. “He made some mistakes but he made some big plays for us. I believe that he will keep getting better as he gains more experience. ” The Rage should be able to end the Bolts season in front of their home crowd. “We need to take care of business in Birmingham.” OL Sean Love said. “They are a good team that has had some bad breaks this year. But they also have a couple of quality wins. After losing their top two quarterbacks, their confidence level has to be down and hopefully we can take advantage of that. This may be an opportunity for our offense to get on track.”